“Not much traffic today.” His wife nods, and they continue on. He lights a cigarette. “Nope. Not much traffic.” As their destination comes into view, she says nothing. He clears his throat. “Nice flat lake.” She turns away from him, toward the window, as he repeats, “Nice flat lake.”
Irritating as this man is, she probably won’t leave him for this reason alone. But if this pattern materializes in your novel, your reader will likely leave you.
Most writers know that they mustn’t repeat. So why do they?
~ Metaphorical throat clearing
Saying it again resembles “um” or “er” in conversation. Maybe details or events occurred twice in the first draft and were never deleted. It’s mostly habit—and you can break it.
Over and over, writers heard: introduce what you’ll say, develop what you introduced, summarize what you said. This makes sense for teaching and learning. Is that what novels are about?
~ Distrust of the reader
This one is the most powerful. Good writers are nearly always insecure, comparing themselves to novelists they love and feeling they fall short. Very short. Concern that the metaphor is shaky, the subtext too subtle, or theme too understated, such writers clarify. Usually, though, they merely repeat what readers already absorbed.
What do writers repeat?
You know. First you comment on all dogs, then on individual breeds. You could also reverse the order to specific, then general. But don’t.
* Metaphor and explanation
If the metaphor can’t communicate without explanation, it’s not one you want.
Yes, you must link each detail or idea or moment to the next. But, for example, don’t link each detail or idea or moment to the next by repeating the whole thing!
* Recent events
Never bring other characters up to date by repeating what readers already know. Hint. Condense.
How do you handle the repetition problem? You already know. About the lake and the traffic.
Tip: Once is enough.